Wednesday, May 25 2022

We’re now just past the mid-way point of the 2021-22 NBA season, and key events like the trade deadline and the All-Star Game are less than a month away. That makes it a perfect time to reset and take a big picture look at the league. And, in particular, where teams stand in the title race. 

Much of the past decade was dominated by superteams like the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors, but due to a combination of player movement, injuries and COVID-19, there is now a good deal of parity at the top of the league. Multiple teams in each conference have a legitimate chance to win it all, which isn’t always the case. 

Despite everything they have going on, both on and off the court, the Brooklyn Nets (+260) remain the favorites, per Caesers Sportsbook. Rounding out the top four are the Golden State Warriors (+400), Milwaukee Bucks (+700) and Phoenix Suns (+700). There’s then a significant drop-off to the Utah Jazz (+1100). The Los Angeles Lakers have the seventh-best odds (+1600).

Here’s a look at the top contenders:

Injuries to James Harden and Kyrie Irving ruined the Nets’ chances last season, but there was fairly widespread agreement that with everyone healthy they were the clear favorites heading into this season. Then Irving refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which means he’s still not allowed to play in home games and certain road games; Harden got off to a slow start and hasn’t quite been his usual self; Kevin Durant had to carry an untenable load and eventually suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him sidelined for at least a month. The Nets remain the favorites due to their sheer amount of talent, but it’s hard to have complete confidence in them.

After a few down years, the Warriors are back in the mix at the top of the league. Klay Thompson is finally back, they have an elite defense and their supporting cast is much-improved. But they’re just 10-8 since their electric 24-5 start, and have some real concerns. Most notably, Steph Curry is mired in a strange shooting slump and Draymond Green is dealing with a calf injury related to a disc in his lower back. Both of those things need to be fixed in order for the Warriors to get back to their best basketball. 

The two teams tied for the third-best odds — the Bucks and Suns — met in the Finals last season. Phoenix has been dominant so far, boasting the best record in the league at 36-9. Milwaukee, meanwhile, has had a tough time with injuries and COVID-19 but is still just a game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference at 30-19. Both teams are in the top-10 in offensive and defensive rating, and we know they have what it takes to win in the postseason. With the way things are going, we could be in for a rematch for the first time since the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers met in the Finals four straight times from 2015-18. 

Of course, you cannot have a discussion about the title race without mentioning the Lakers. Based strictly on what they’ve shown on the court this season, they really don’t deserve this recognition, but they are the Lakers and they do have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Because of that top-end talent, it would be unwise to completely rule them out. If those two are healthy come playoff time, they’ll always have something of a chance. 



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